Healthy Skin from Within
Not all good-for-you foods need to be expensive or exotic. While beautiful skin is an attribute that's positioned as a luxury, the appearance of your skin often belies the health of your other body systems. Poor digestion, nutrition, stress, autoimmune conditions and imbalances often show up in the skin as blemishes, redness, rashes and premature wrinkles.
Here are a list of 5 everyday foods that provide essential nutrition for the skin.
5 everyday skin foods:
Cucumber slices are a stereotypical spa staple and for good reason: cucumbers are hydrating and cooling and have been used since ancient times topically to soothe the skin. Cucumbers are over 90% water, making them low in calories and sugar, but they also contain Vitamin K and silica, a nutrient essential for healthy connective tissue. Healthy skin needs proper hydration which is why affordable and abundant cucumbers made this list.
Seek out organic, unwaxed cucumbers--I like the English cucumbers that come shrink-wrapped--so you can eat the skin and seeds. If you aren't a fan of cucumbers in salads, try them in green juices, green smoothies or naturally fermented pickles or use your vegetable peeler to shave long ribbons for sandwiches or burgers.
Watermelon and Tomato
I put watermelon and tomato together here because they are both good sources of the antioxidant lycopene (it's why they share the same red color as well). Lycopene is believed to help the skin protect itself against sun damage--one of the biggest ways we harm our skin and its appearance. Think of it as a light dusting of internal sunscreen (although not a reason to skip your normal sunscreen).
For an intense lycopene punch, seek out cooked tomato products like canned tomatoes or paste. Try my Chickpeas in Romesco Sauce for a recipe that uses canned tomatoes or my Kale Salad with Sun-dried Tomatoes for another tomato-y twist. Watermelon can be enjoyed on its own or blended for juices, smoothies and even cocktails.
There are lots of leafy green vegetables that could make this list, but I'm including kale because of it's over the top Vitamin C and Beta Carotene content. Both these antioxidants are associated with skin health and fighting free radical damage. Kale is also a fantastic source of insoluble fiber, which is crucial to regular digestion. Skin inflammation and blemishes are more common when other eliminatory systems--like the digestive system--aren't doing their job properly, so seek out fiber-rich foods for good skin health too.
Kale can be served sauteed, raw in a salad, baked into chips or just about any other way you can think. Kale also lasts a long time in the fridge--compared to more delicate greens like spinach--which makes it an even more economic choice. Try my Kale Salad with Asian Pears and Pine Nuts.
Sunflower seeds are an often overlooked food when it comes to skin health. Rich in Vitamin E and selenium, their anti-inflammatory properties are good for the skin. Almonds are frequently cited as a good skin food, but as their cost continues to rise, you can seek out their more affordable and common culinary relative, the sunflower seed, to substitute.
Try unsweetened sunflower butter wherever you might use peanut butter or almond butter. Pro tip: check out my Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (think Reese's but WAY better) and sub in sunflower butter for a lower sugar, skin-beautifying treat.
Real Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is anecdotally cited by pretty much every Mediterranean woman I know as the secret to her supple, young looking skin. And it's believed that there is some truth behind this assertion. Extra virgin olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which are believed to be good for the skin. In one study, those who consumed 2 teaspoons of olive oil a day had 31% less signs of aging than those who consumed less than 1 teaspoon day.
Beware of cheap or unverified olive oil brands though. Although labeled "extra virgin olive oil" many of these brands--an estimated 69% of those sold in the U.S.--are in fact selling oil cut with cheaper oils or oil that has oxidized. My favorite everyday brand for olive oil is California Olive Ranch.
Olive oil can be used to make many of your favorite recipes, but it should not be used for high heat cooking like sauteeing, pan-frying or roasting since these cooking methods will cause the oil to break down, becoming not-so-healthy. Use olive oil raw for salads or dressings or when you are sauteeing on a really low heat (think no browning) like in a soup.